Every day, people of all ages are diagnosed with a mental health condition. Specifically, millions of children and teens deal with mental health disorders including anxiety, depression and more. These issues can stem from various genetic and environmental predispositions. But no matter how adolescents come to develop mental health concerns, they must have resources to manage and improve their mental health to succeed.
In This Article
- Common School-Aged Mental Health Challenges
- Causes of Mental Health Challenges
- Tips for Managing Mental Health Challenges
- Signs Your Child Needs Help Managing Their Mental Health
- Get Help Managing Mental Health at Hillside
Common School-Aged Mental Health Challenges
What are some of the most common mental health disorders young people face? Common mental health challenges for children and teens include the following:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Known for short as GAD, generalized anxiety disorder causes people to feel excessive and chronic worry that’s challenging for them to manage. Additional symptoms include difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances and body tension. When a person has GAD, they’ll experience some or all of these feelings on most days for at least six months. Approximately 7.1% of American adolescents have anxiety.
When children or teens have panic disorder, they experience unexpected and repetitive panic attacks, which cause acute fear and physical symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, chest pain, dizziness, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.
A child or teen with panic disorder will experience frequent worry over when the next panic attack will occur, and their behavior may change as they anticipate a panic attack. These kids may avoid situations that caused or contributed to a previous panic attack.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD occurs when a terrifying or traumatic event triggers severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts and nightmares. These events can include severe injuries, accidents, sudden deaths or other situations that make a person feel threatened.
Those with post-traumatic stress disorder will struggle to recover from a traumatic event and experience emotional distress when something reminds them of the event. These individuals experience moments where they feel as though the event is happening again or have recurrent memories of the event. Approximately 5% of children and teenagers experience some sort of trauma that causes PTSD.
Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD, or social anxiety disorder, is a condition that causes people to feel extreme worry and fear before, during or after social interactions. Those with social anxiety will fear being embarrassed or judged by others. These feelings may cause them to avoid social situations or worry about a social event in the weeks or months leading up to it. Over 9% of adolescents experience social anxiety, which is greater than the 7.1% of the overall population that has social anxiety.
Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience extreme distress due to obsessions and compulsions that disrupt everyday life. These obsessions are unwanted and recurring feelings, thoughts or ideas that cause repetitive, compulsive behaviors. Someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder will perform ritualistic behaviors to temporarily relieve anxiety.
This mental health condition affects approximately 3.2% of children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17. Those with depression feel sad or irritable and lose interest in activities, relationships or hobbies they used to enjoy. Additionally, they may experience low self-esteem, changes in appetite and sleeping, aches and pains, trouble concentrating and life-threatening behaviors.
A child with depression may cling to adults, refuse to attend school, express irritability, lose weight or complain of aches and pains. As they get older, they may also express thoughts of feeling worthless or misunderstood.
Causes of Mental Health Challenges
All mental health conditions arise due to various personal circumstances. Aspects like brain chemistry, thought patterns, environment and other factors can cause mental health challenges in children and teens. Some of the following factors can cause conditions such as anxiety and depression in young people:
- Trauma, neglect or abuse
- Discrimination or bullying
- Feelings of loneliness
- Poor physical health
- Imbalance of chemicals in the brain
It’s no secret that we experience significant changes during our teen years. During the teenage years, people experience changes in their bodies during and after puberty, and they usually start to experience peer pressure and increased academic expectations. These factors can lead to temporary low self-esteem and stress for many teens. In some cases, the feelings linger and cause mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
Bullying is another factor that can cause mental health challenges. This is a factor that can affect both children and teens. Bullying can occur at school, outside of school and even online, making it difficult for adults to notice and intervene when it occurs. Both physical and verbal harassment can significantly affect a child or teen’s mental health.
Elements in a child or teen’s home can also cause mental health challenges. Severe situations like abuse, neglect or trauma can lead to mental health conditions. However, even less severe situations, such as parents divorcing or conflict within the family, can lead to disorders like anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, factors such as a lack of training for teachers and limited school resources can worsen mental health conditions in public schools. When schools wait until challenging behaviors arise to address mental health conditions, it causes them to overlook many students who may need help. The statistics for mental health in schools show that the number of high school students who experienced ongoing feelings of hopelessness or sadness increased by 40% between 2009 and 2019.
Many schools rely on disciplinary measures to address behavioral challenges. This approach can cause adults to miss the more subtle signs of mental health conditions that students may express. Additionally, it can cause mental health conditions to worsen as adults miss the signs and delay seeking help for students. This is why mental health awareness is so important in public schools.
Tips for Managing Mental Health Challenges
Of course, children and teens are not always open about their mental health needs — they may not feel comfortable sharing how they’re feeling with others, or they may not fully understand what they’re feeling. If you’re a parent or guardian, you can help your child or teen feel more open to share their feelings and any mental health challenges they may experience by developing their resilience.
These tips can help you do so:
1. Teach Them to Feel Capable
It’s important that children and teens feel they can accomplish goals. When they feel competent and capable in their academic life, personal interests and social situations, they’re better able to manage stress in healthy ways. Encourage your child to find activities and hobbies they’re interested in and set goals within said interests.
Some children or teens might build confidence by joining a sports team and meeting goals in training. Others might build confidence by learning how to cook and trying new recipes. Help your child or teen find a passion and develop competency in that interest so they can build their self-esteem.
2. Remind Them They Belong
A sense of belonging is important in all stages of life — but especially in childhood and adolescence. It helps children and teens to feel like they can trust themselves and others and promotes healthy self-esteem. Work with your child or teen so they can develop healthy relationships at home, at school and with friends. When they maintain healthy relationships, they’ll feel safer and more connected to others, helping prevent feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
3. Reinforce Positive Decision-Making and Behaviors
Abilities like social skills, conflict resolution and problem-solving are important for children and teens to learn and practice as they grow. Encourage your child or teen to practice social skills within their relationships at home and school, and make sure to provide positive feedback when they make positive decisions or successfully handle a challenging situation.
4. Provide a Safe Environment
It’s essential that children and teens feel safe both at home and at school. Remind them they can always talk to you about their feelings and they can reach out for help if they experience or witness certain behavior at school. Help them think of adults they can trust at home and at school, whether they’re teachers, counselors or other school staff. Remind them they can confide in you if they don’t feel safe at school, and encourage them to reach out to make others feel safe, as well.
5. Encourage Healthy Coping Strategies
Help your child or teen build resilience with coping strategies they can use to manage stress and other challenging feelings when they arise. Methods such as exercise, deep breathing, talking, meditation and other coping mechanisms can help children when they feel stressed, even as they grow. Work with them to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways by modeling healthy coping strategies and practicing them with your child or teen.
Signs Your Child Needs Help Managing Their Mental Health
Because your child or teen may not verbally express to you that they’re having problems with their mental health, it’s important to watch for the following signs that indicate they could have a mental health condition:
1. Changes in Mood
Kids with mental health challenges may frequently feel sadness, anger, worry and other negative emotions. If changes in mood persist for two weeks or more, it may be time to seek help. Though it’s common for children and teens to feel sad, worried or angry based on daily experiences, persistent negative feelings could be a sign they’re experiencing a mental health condition.
Specifically, young children may express their feelings through excessive worrying or crying. If you notice your child crying more than usual or expressing frequent worry, they may be struggling with their mental health but unable to understand or vocalize what they’re feeling.
2. Shifts in Sleep Patterns
A teen who feels depressed or anxious will experience changes in their sleep patterns. If you notice your child or teen is sleeping more than usual or not sleeping enough, they may be struggling with their mental health. If they seem tired throughout the majority of the day, they may be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night, or they may be struggling with fatigue that often accompanies mental health conditions.
3. Physical Symptoms
Both depression and anxiety can often cause physical symptoms such as aches and pains. Adolescents who feel depressed or anxious may complain of headaches, stomach aches or other aches. If your child often complains of aches and pains, and their physician can’t trace them back to a different condition, they may actually be struggling with anxiety or depression.
4. Decreased School Performance
Kids may struggle to concentrate when they experience anxiety or depression. This can cause their grades and overall school performance to drop. If you notice your child or teen is struggling to focus, complete schoolwork or maintain their usual grades, they may be struggling with their mental health.
5. Social Isolation
Additionally, depression and anxiety can cause children and teens to have low self-esteem and avoid their peers. This is especially true when they have social anxiety. If you notice your child or teen avoiding their friends or social situations, they may need help managing their mental health.
It’s common for children and teens to show aggression at times, especially during the early years of development. However, excessive aggression can be a sign of a mental health condition. If your child or teen is expressing aggression on a regular basis, it may be time to seek mental health services.
7. Excessive Hyperactivity
Hyperactivity is common and expected in young people, but when a child expresses it more than usual, a mental health condition may be causing their behavior. This is a common sign of a mental health condition in children during the preschool and elementary school years. Keep an eye on them as they transition to middle school to see whether their behavior calms down or not.
8. Destructive Behaviors
When it comes to mental illness in high school students or pre-teens, destructive behaviors can be common. If you notice your pre-teen or teen is engaging in frequent outbursts and other destructive behaviors, it may actually be a cry for help and a sign of mental health problems.
9. Changes in Appetite
If you notice that your child or teen is losing weight, gaining weight, eating more than usual or losing their appetite, it may be a sign they need help managing their mental health. Both depression and anxiety can often cause loss of appetite or binge eating, which can also lead to sudden weight changes.
10. Self-Harm or Life-Threatening Behaviors
If you notice your child is physically harming themselves or expressing they want to hurt themselves, it likely means they’re struggling with their mental health. Some children or teens may frequently express a desire to run away, which can eventually lead to life-threatening behaviors or self-harm. If you notice your child or teen engaging in any life-threatening behaviors or expressing a desire to self-harm, it’s essential to seek help.
Get Help Managing Mental Health at Hillside
If you notice that your child or teen is struggling with their mental health, it’s important to seek help. At Hillside, we can help your child or teen find hope through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and other therapeutic services. The professional team at Hillside is passionate about treating mental health conditions and helping children and teens achieve greater health and well-being.
Contact Hillside to learn more about how we can help your child or teen find hope.